W9MJL Repeater - A Short Story By Don Russell, WA9EIC
I don't remember whose call sign was on the repeater first, but mine was on it twice, Bill, WB9FOP was on it for quite a while, then it was club repeater call sign WR9AEE for a while until the FCC stopped repeater call signs. It had Ron Stonecipher, WK9Y, then Gary Dennison, KA9SKS, and then the current W9MJL. So much for the call sign, now for the repeater itself.
The Vermilion County Amateur Radio Association maintains a two meter repeater which operates on 146.820 megahertz. It didn't simply appear, it evolved over two decades. The story starts with W9VFF, Harold Davidson, helping most of the local hams get on two meters NFM by making necessary conversions to used Motorola radios which he sold and serviced for commercial users, like taxicabs and police an fire departments. That was in the 1950's and '60's. Two way mobile phones started somewhere in that time period. They utilized a centrally located tower with VHF radios capable of relaying signals mobile to mobile. (sound familiar??)
Some of the local hams, not to be outdone and of an experimenting nature, scrounged up some military surplus (WW II) equipment and home built some cavities and threw on the first Danville "repeater" in the mid 1970's. It raised a stink, because we put it on what was then a "simplex" frequency, and the old timers hated the intrusion on frequency. (146.94 MHz) We quickly moved it to 146.76 MHz to compliment the already existing Champaign repeater. That was another mistake, not having any idea what the range of coverage would be, and it interfered rather than complimented the Champaign repeater. The current 146.82 MHz was soon settled on. That was in the mid to late 1970's. The equipment was upgraded several times during the same time period, with many generous donations from such hams as Jim Wilson, W9KYG and Bill Garfield. WB9FOP, just to name two of a dozen that were involved monetarily in the repeater's development.
The hams that were interested greatly in the repeater drove the old timers nuts during VCARA club meetings, constantly talking about "repeater this and repeater that.." and were asked to be a committee and merely report to the club at meetings and stop taking up club meeting time talking about something they were not interested in...The repeater committee had dozens of members and decided "why waste the VCARA's time each meeting, let's form another club and not bother the old timers with the "techie" stuff we do?"
The Illiana Repeater System (IRS) club was formed (early 1980's some time, I'm not sure of the dates) Many more members were in the IRS than in the VCARA. In fact the VCARA nearly went out of existence. Several IRS club members didn't want the VCARA heritage to disappear so they decided to merge the two clubs back into one. Oddly enough the name VCARA was decided on for the newly re-formed club. Some of the IRS members were resentful of the merger as there were some hard feelings with the other clubs members and lots of hard work might be forgotten with the name change. (Imagine that, hard feeling among club members?)
The repeater was located first at the old Danville Redipage tower on Withner Ave. in the Heights, was moved to WB9FOP's 110' tower in South Danville (Tilton) , then his house on East English Street (same 110'), then to Lauhoff Grain Elevator for a short time in mid 1980's, then moved to the WDAN tower where it was at 400" height for over a decade. A couple years ago the site incurred some lightening damage and the repeater was moved to where it currently is located, at the VCARA clubhouse on Woodbury Hill, Harrison Park West, and on temporary antenna at a height of about 60'. The current equipment, a Motorola Micor, the cavities and the old DB products antenna were bought brand new with borrowed money the IRS club was able to obtain with Jim Wilson and Lloyd McCauley K9AJK' help through a local bank. (I think in Chrisman or Westville). We paid the note off by selling shelled pecans by the pound package and a couple other fund raisers. (sound familiar?)
That's the repeater short story as I recall.